July 24, 2013

Writing Club Wednesday: Being a Pusher

The thing about being an early reader and having much older siblings is that you'll learn to read above your level pretty damn fast. I grew up on YA, and not long after I started reading it, I started writing it.

For a long time, everything I wrote was about living vicariously. I thought it'd be cool to be a triplet or quadruplet, so my main characters were always triplets or quadruplets. I thought it'd be cool if they wore sparkly minidresses, so they did. I want them to go to the beach like the Wakefield twins, so they did. Plot was, admittedly, kinda secondary. I like to think of this whole time period as "Phase I."

As I got older, though, I started to understand that plots were actually sort of necessary. So I wrote a book, and it had one, and it was okay. Then I got to college, and I kept writing, and that book definitely had a plot, and it was pretty good. (Phase II!) And then I got a job at a university, and got to take a kidlit writing class, and I started a new book, and it was really good. (Phase III!)

Or at least I thought it was. (Whoops, still Phase II.)

This time, though, I had a teacher. And you know what that teacher was?

A pusher. (Like, a drug pusher, Cady? YES.)

WTF does that mean? (Not the Mean Girls reference; obviously you should know what that means.) It means she taught me these things that have stuck with me every day, and which I hope will continue to make me a better writer with each and every manuscript:

Do not let your characters off the hook. It's really, really easy to just end a scene by having a character walk out of the room, refusing to answer a question. Resist. Be honest with yourself - if you were having that conversation with someone, would you really let him or her walk out of the room at that point? Would anyone? Don't end conversations at an unnatural point just to give yourself a cliffhanger sentence. Be real with your characters' interactions, and the realism will come throughout your whole story.

Don't cheat your readers out of resolutions just so you don't have to write the tough stuff. Yes, technically, you can resolve a tough conversation with a two-second throwback to it in the narration. You can say, "We talked about our fight and everything is fine now." But for the reader who sat through the fight and can't imagine how it might've been resolved, you're cheating them out of the ability to see your characters actively work on their relationship. I want to see how they came together, what he said when he came out, how she defended herself against that accusation of cheating... whatever. They might not be the easiest conversations to write, but they're necessary.

Give your subplots the depth they deserve. Subplots might be convenient, but they aren't there simply for your convenience. If you bring in backstory, make sure you're using it to its full potential, and not simply pulling it out for convenience's sake. (Same goes for hobbies. Can we call a moratorium on "serious artists" in YA who literally care about art for the two scenes they need to rant about how no one takes their art seriously?)

Is it easy to do these things? Not at all. Is it worth it? In my opinion, totally. When I read published books that fail to do these things, they tend to fall into my "Love the premise, not the execution" pile. And nobody wants to be in that pile. Nobody wants a book that doesn't live up to its potential. Nobody wants to be a writer who doesn't live up to his or her potential.

So, look. I'm a pusher. I pushed my husband into law school (false), I pushed myself to work three jobs (true!) and now I'm gonna push you.

Step outside your comfort zone. Be honest with your characters. Realize your book's potential. Step into Phase III.

And if you ever see me outside of school, make sure to tell me if I'm wearing a fugly vest.


Maggie Hall said...

"Nobody wants a book that doesn't live up to its potential." So true. And I'm so glad this post lived up to its potential, because when I saw the title, I thought, this had better have Mean Girls references. Great post!

Philip Siegel said...

Great post! Always be pushing your characters, and write them into corners that they have to fight to get out of. And so true about "serious artists" -- call it the Laney Boggs syndrome.

See you at PJ Calamity's!

tawney13 said...

I am so going to use these to strengthen my writing. Great post. You always are full of writing wisdom! You had me at Mean Girls when I saw the title. Lol.

Stephsco said...

Any book by Gayle Forman is a lesson on how to show artistic characters and not just pay lip service. I wish I could bottle up what she does and do it myself.

I like your thought on finishing the conversation; I always hate when TV characters hang up the phone without finishing the conversation or at least saying goodbye. They just, mid-talk, hang up. What?!

Alexander Andreas said...

I didn't miss the voting!!!! I always come back to vote and it's done. I got my 3 in though it was soooo hard to narrow it down to just 3. Everyone brings something exciting and fresh to the prompt.
training to be a life coach

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